More than 23,000 New Employees Have Joined Agency

Housekeeping Aide Kolan Glass sanitizes a room between patients in the emergency department of the North Las Vegas VAMC. Now, VA has added 1,400 more housekeeping staff nationwide as part of a 23,000 employee hiring blitz. Photo from North Las Vegas VAMC

WASHINGTON—Thanks to an influx of emergency funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of expedited hiring practices, VA has onboarded more than 23,000 new employees, including 4,700 nurses, 800 physicians and 1,400 housekeeping staff, since the end of March. After accounting for departures, VA netted 8,000 new workers, some of whom were onboarded in as little as 72 hours.

This success by the agency, known for its lengthy hiring processes and a backlog of positions that go unfilled for years, has legislators wondering if this expedited process can become a new normal for VA. 

“It used to take 90 days to get a new employee in the door, and in the meantime we lost a lot of good employees because somebody else swept them up,” noted Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last month. “For the VA to bring in new staff [in] 72 hours—that shows what the agency is actually capable of when it sets itself to the task.”

At the beginning of the year, VA had more than 50,000 unfilled positions and had set a goal of 13,000 hires in 2020—a number it has already surpassed. Agency officials did not rule out the possibility that this speed in hiring could continue once the pandemic is over. 

“We are committed to moving forward to maintain as many of these improvements as we can,” explained Steven Lieberman, MD, MBA, VA’s acting principal deputy undersecretary of health. “We’re so pleased how this organization can literally turn a ship rapidly when it need to.”

Those improvements include an aggressive marketing campaign layered on top of new authority provided by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). 

“We stayed ahead of the demand for care by launching amplified hiring campaigns through the use of social media and targeting positions in highest demand,” Lieberman said. “Our successful search and hiring was built on a foundation of human resource modernization achieved before the pandemic. VA consolidated more than 140 facility human resource offices into 18 VISN-level shared services which eliminated bottlenecks.”

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